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WRIT 1150 (Tomlinson): Writing & Culture Seminar

Spring 2024

Generating Search Terms (Keywords)

Search terms, or keywords, are the important words or phrases that serve as the building blocks for how you search for relevant sources in library catalogs, databases, and even Google. Using search terms will produce more effective results than searching for entire sentences or questions.

Selecting Search Terms

Below are some tips for selecting more effective search terms. 

1. Identify the major concepts for your focus area or research question: e.g., individual words (typically nouns) and short phrases

Example: What impact does access to mental health resources have on the retention of first generation college students?


2. Where applicable, brainstorm synonyms and related terms for your major concepts that might also reflect your focus area or research question

Initial Search Terms Synonyms & Related Words
access accessibility, barriers
mental health resources counseling services, support groups, mental health, mental well-being
retention retain, persistence
first generation college students first gen


3. Avoid abstract or implied concepts such as

  • relationship words: compare, contrast, impact, correlation, etc.
  • judgment words: best, most effective, least, worst, etc.


4. Once you’ve tested your search terms in a library database or catalog, consider what other words or phrases you might incorporate and which terms you might omit as you revise your search.

Searching Pro Tip 

If you have a search term that has variant endings, you can strategically replace the ending of that word with a truncation mark. In particular, use an asterisk (*) after the root of a word to bring back variants.

  • disabil* retrieves disability and disabilities
  • disabl* retrieves disable, disables, disabled, and disabling

Be careful not to cut off a word too soon or you’ll also retrieve irrelevant terms:

  • disab* retrieves disability, disabilities, disable, disables, disabled, disabling, but also disabuse, disabused, and disabuses

What if I need help?

If you need assistance selecting search terms, please reach out to the library for help.

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